Rouhollah Tavana

A 34-year-old Iranian man is in imminent danger of hanging for allegedly “insulting the Prophet” in a recorded private joke that security forces found on his personal computer.

Rouhollah Tavana was arrested by Mashhad Intelligence officers at his home in October 2011, and the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reports that the court ruling indicates that the officers had “confiscated a private video recording of Tavana on his personal computer, in which while under the influence of alcohol, he allegedly uttered a phrase the judge interpreted as insulting the Prophet of Islam, a crime under Iranian law.”

The Campaign reports that Islamic Republic laws clearly indicate that if the person uttering insults to the Prophet is under the influence of alcohol, they cannot be given the death penalty for their actions.

Tavana’s mother, Fakhri Jamali, has told the campaign: “We have asked all authorities for a pardon and for forgiveness for him. My son has repented. My son wrote a letter in prison and expressed remorse, but nothing happened. We can’t rely on anything. They are going to hang him just like that.”

Campaign executive director Hadi Ghaemi says: “It is mind-boggling that in the 21st century, the Iranian Judiciary wants to hang a young man for uttering a random phrase during a video he shot of himself and kept it private. This is an unbelievable act of inquisition at its worst.”

Fakhri Jamali has appealed for help to save her son, saying: “They said they will serve the lawyer and my son with his death sentence ruling at Vakilabad Prison in Shiraz in the next two weeks. My son has no idea that the Supreme Court has confirmed his death sentence. He keeps calling from prison and asking about it, and all we do is to give him hope. We are now forced to give interviews to the media. Up until now, we were afraid my son’s situation would worsen if we gave interviews, but we have no choice anymore. We ask everyone to help stop my son’s death sentence.”

Jamali described the incident that led to her son’s death, telling the Campaign: “Three years ago, one of my son’s friends called the Mashhad Intelligence Office and told them that my son had information at his home that was ‘anti-revolutionary’ and ‘against the Supreme Leader.’ Forces from the Mashhad Intelligence Office raided my son’s home suddenly, searching through all his books, personal items, and his computer hard disk. On his computer there was a video that my son and one of his brothers had made of themselves on the night of his birthday.”

Jamali goes on to add: “In this video, my son, who was having a drink, said a sentence that cannot even be a direct insult to Prophet Mohammad. He was holding the knife he was going to cut the cake with and he said, ‘Put this knife up your prophet’s butt.’ But this film was private and other than himself and his brother, there was no one else in it. My son was kept in solitary confinement inside the Intelligence Office for three-and-a-half months, and then they transferred him to Vakilabad Prison in Shiraz.”

The Campaign reports that the judiciary has also charged Tavana with producing alcoholic beverages based on another personal video confiscated during the raid on his home. Tavana’s mother says the basis of that charge is also a private video made in jest: “He had a file on his computer which the Intelligence forces found. Rouhollah had videotaped himself when he was all alone, concocting an alcoholic beverage in a pressure cooker in the kitchen. [In the video] he was jokingly describing the directions for making the alcoholic drink. But all of these were private files. The Intelligence forces themselves took the files and put them on CDs and entered them into his case.”

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran calls on the Iranian judiciary to rescind Rouhollah Tavana’s death sentence of on the authority of Article 263 of the Islamic Penal Code, which states: “If the individual accused of [insult] claims that his statements were made reluctantly, negligently, unintentionally, or while drunk, or angry, or were verbal blunders, or were said without attention to the meaning of the words, or were quoting another individual, he will not be considered an insulter of the Prophet.”